Category: Blog

Revamp of the Bull Inn

Article by Kate Philbin at the Totnes Times. As the planning application was submitted for the transformation of a historic town centre pub, the woman behind the plans has been speaking out about her extraordinary life. Geetie Singh-Watson, 48, known to many as the wife of Riverford entrepreneur Guy Watson, is the driving force behind the redevelopment of The Bull Inn in Totnes which aims to become an organic gastropub with letting rooms upstairs. However, it is not an extension of the Riverford empire but a project in its own right and it is hers and hers alone, Geetie insists. She says that people assume The Bull will be run by Riverford or is being financed by Riverford but actually it is neither. Raised on a commune in Herefordshire by a mother who was a builder, Geetie was no stranger to hands-on manual work from an early age. Her mother, Liz Singh, bought and restored a derelict cottage, installing everything from the sewage system to the windows. She was “a powerful role model” for Geetie as was her father, Gurmukh Singh, a Sikh entrepreneur who first came to the UK in the 1950s. He founded the first Indian restaurant in London that was owned by its staff. One of its backers was Salman Rushdie. Later, her mother remarried and her stepfather, Geoff Petty, an educationalist whose work is used to this day by schools such as Totnes Progressive School, also proved a great role model. At the age of 28, Geetie opened her first “values-driven gastropub”, The Duke of Cambridge in Islington. Inspired by her hardworking parents and the example set by women like Anita Roddick, Geetie was determined to create a thriving pub business that was both ethical and profitable, without compromising on staff welfare or the quality of ingredients. She needed £350,000 to build the business. “I asked everyone I knew if they would be interested in investing. No one gave anything they couldn’t afford to lose, it was a gamble but it was fun.” The pub broke even in its first year. Geetie admits she was “too young and cocky” and she “should have listened” to advice from Anita Roddick, who told steadily to build a stable and effective business. Instead, swept along by the dotcom boom, Geetie bought two more pubs in London. “As the business expanded the passion got lost. Within five years I sold off the two other pubs and just kept The Duke of Cambridge. Overall it was a positive experience but I felt bad for the investors.” Despite these knockbacks, Geetie believes the experience gave her a far greater understanding of business. “You don’t learn in business when you are being successful, you learn from your failures. If I were investing I would never invest with someone who hasn’t failed at least once because they know nothing.” Geetie sold The Duke of Cambridge to Guy Watson four years ago. At the time she was a trustee of the Soil Association and a founder member of the London Food Board with Ken Livingston. She was also working with schools in deprived areas to teach children about healthy cooking. When she met Guy it wasn’t exactly a match made in Heaven. She said: “I had known of him in the organic world for many years but he came to talk to me in 2007 about setting up a pub in London. I thought, what are you doing here on my patch? I was very frosty.” The pair met again some years later through the Soil Association and it was a very different meeting. “I realised our business values were completely aligned and that he was extraordinary.” They married in 2014. Geetie spent three years running The Riverford Field Kitchen but stopped to concentrate on developing The Bull.
She has always been fascinated by town centre pubs and looks out for any that are for sale in a town “in the way that other people look out for houses”. She said: “I love The Bull. It looks beautiful and it has great views and a big, corner site in front of an open square. It is slightly off the beaten track which I love as it means tourists have to put some effort into discovering it.” The pub is currently in a run-down condition and requires extensive restoration. Geetie has plans to turn it into an organic, values-driven gastropub but without losing its traditional heritage. Its name won’t change as she believes “pub names should be protected, they are part of our history”. The restoration work, which will cost in excess of half a million, is being funded by the sale of Geetie’s London flat. “I rather like the fact that property equity, which feels like an unfair distribution of wealth, is being used to bring a historic Totnes pub back to life.”
If all goes to plan, the pub will open in Summer 2019. Around 30 jobs will be created and it will use local, organic suppliers. Geetie said: “I grew up in a staunchly feminist household – my mum could strip down a car engine! The fact that people assume Guy is funding my business has opened up a new conversation in our household about feminism. It is great. Guy is a real feminist, he took my name when we got married. It is an exciting time.” The planning application for The Bull is available on the SHDC website, reference: 3376/18/LBC      

Devon 2nd Favourite Staycation Destination in UK

With the uncertainty of Brexit on the horizon, ‘staycations’ in the UK are set to increase* over 2019. For holidaymakers wishing to sidestep the unwanted worry of exchange rates and travel visas, it makes sense to choose a staycation in the UK this year over an exotic holiday abroad. But for those opting for a staycation for the first time, it can be difficult to know where to go. The Tourist Trail conducted a study** asking over 2,100 participants to choose their favourite destination for a UK staycation, and to explain the reasoning behind their choice. The results revealed that Cornwall was the most popular staycation destination, receiving 13.73% of the votes, with Devon a close second with 8.3%.  People cited the ‘laid back culture’, ‘relaxed lifestyle’ and ‘feeling like you’re abroad’ as the top reasons for choosing Devon.    Robin Williams, director of The Tourist Trail said: “I think it’s testament to UK tourism and the growing staycation industry that we have seen so many varied counties being voted for with such impassioned reasoning from the respondents.” To read the full article on the top 25 staycation destinations in the UK please visit  For more information on Devon please visit

New age fish shop opens in Totnes

Totnes has been selected as the launchpad for a new age fish shop, called Cormacks Seafood. Based in the food hub of Ticklemore Street, this fish shop promises its customers a new seafood experience.

Founder, Aarik Persaud, explains the premise of the business:

‘The Covid-19 crisis completely threw the UK seafood industry. Retailers couldn’t get their hands on fresh seafood, whilst most of our fishing fleet was tied to the docks because there wasn’t a direct supply chain and/or market for their fish or shellfish. It is a mad system, especially considering the quality of seafood that is landed locally. It is a real struggle to find fresh seafood from our coastlines.

We have been running as a seafood product-focused business since 2018. We have always really valued the importance of supporting our local fishing fleet - that’s why we only sell seafood that’s caught locally by small day boats. Fishermen are the backbone of many coastal communities and they treasure their small patch of sea like their lives depend on it because it does! The same can’t always be said for larger vessels that can travel wherever and whenever they want. So, for me, one of the most important things that I can do is to show my local community the abundance of fresh, delicious seasonal seafood that is landed right here in Devon. We need to eat locally and seasonally if we are to ever consider abolishing wasteful and environmentally damaging practices, such as exporting our food thousands of miles and overfishing popular species. I personally think our own seafood is far superior in taste to the most commonly consumed fish and shellfish products, like tuna, salmon, warm water prawns, anyway.’

Aarik’s passion for the seafood industry and strong ethos for the shop may have originally stemmed from his wife, Alison Freeman. Alison, who has a MRes degree in Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture, also works in the seafood industry for a fisheries charity that supports fishing livelihoods and champions sustainable fishing practices.

Aarik, on the other hand, has spent his career of over 20 years working as a chef. He has led kitchens across the world, such as Toronto, Sydney, Bali, Hong Kong, and London. In Asia, Aarik owned a series of butcheries, which operated on a nose-to-tail mantra of using the whole animal. Aarik is looking forward to bringing this experience and knowledge to the seafood industry and will be using his culinary experiences to transform the seafood into a range of ready to cook products. ‘There are some amazing parts of a fish which are often discarded, such as the cheeks, ribs, and head. I think the seafood industry does need a shake up. We’ve been eating plain battered white fish for too long. Don’t get me wrong, it is great, but where are the new seafood products?’

Cormacks Seafood started its life a few years back; canning day boat mackerel, marinated in international sauces, such as miso ginger, pastrami spice and puttanesca. Having the shop allows Aarik to build and develop a far more extensive product range. Two of the frozen food products Aarik will be making by hand for the shop are soy and yuzu infused katsu fillets, inspired from his many years of eating Japanese curry in small ‘mom and pop’ restaurants across Asia, as well as Fish’n’Chip fish fingers, first born in one of Aarik’s restaurants in Hong Kong. He also has a salt fridge which will be used to cure the seafood, some of which will end up as frozen ready to eat fillets. He will be using traditional Japanese methods to prepare a range of simple fillets. ‘I’m really excited to get started. Life is about to get very busy.’

cormacks 1

Aarik is available to chat at info@cormacksseafood.co.uk; 0748858106.

Cormacks Seafood opened on 28th July 2020 at Unit 11, The Plains Shopping Centre, Ticklemore Street, Devon.

The opening hours are Tuesday (12 – 5pm), Wednesday – Friday (9am – 5pm), Saturday (9am – 1pm)

www.cormacksseafood.co.uk info@cormacksseafood.co.uk

Totnes to Sharpham walk

By Coast & Country Cottages With the Totnes to Sharpham walk so picturesque, we just had to make a visual guide to show you the natural beauty of one of South Devons glorious walks. This moderately easy walk along along the Dart Valley trail takes you to Sharpham Vineyard, where you can sample locally-produced wine and cheese! The bustling ancient market town of Totnes is situated at head of the estuary of the River Dart, and is the starting point to The Dart Valley Trail. Read more about sharpham walk.

Focus on Fitness!

Totnes Pavilion Leisure Centre has seen many changes in the last twenty months with these being extremely positive in the last six months. They are offering you a chance to register for a free day pass so that you can try the facilities for yourself and find out more about what they have to offer. Before the current management structure under Fusion Lifestyle was agreed in 2017 the site was being managed by two separate organisations. The Pool, Gym and Sauna by Totnes and District Swimming Pool Association (TADpool) and the Reception, Sports Hall, Dance Studio, Meeting Room, Tennis Courts and outdoor pitches by Tone Leisure Ltd. Even prior to 2006 the site had been under the control of TADpool and South Hams District Council. Despite the dual management arrangement having many positives over a number of years the flaws in the partnership started to show. A combined approach under the management of one organisation was the ultimate solution which has now enabled a longer-term business plan to be activated allowing some previously hard to come by investment. Fusion Lifestyle, a London based not for profit organisation with over 80 sites in their portfolio, were contracted to take on the management of the site and to draw up plans for updating the facilities. This has led to the following investments so far with the expectation of more to come in a phase two development (tbc). May 2018 o New pool filters and a circulation pump which has improved water quality, temperature and reliability issues o New Sauna installed and opened July/August 2018 o Main entrance/facade repainted o Fitness Class Studio extended and redecorated o New equipment added for fitness classes o Fitness suite redecorated and a completely new set of equipment installed September 2018 o New accessibility Hoist for the Swimming Pool installed To register for a free day pass and to find more information on the centre click here

The Bull Inn, Totnes

A radical new organic inn for Devon, squaring up to the seasonal veg hijackers and leading the way in doing business better. Is it possible for a pub to lead the way in sustainable food and ethical hospitality? It can, says organic publican Geetie Singh- Watson, provided fairness and authenticity as well as profit are at its heart. Geetie and the team behind the eight-bedroom organic inn aim to show through their actions that it’s possible to make choices based on decent values while being a serious player. Jump back 23 years when Geetie started out in the pub industry, ethical working practises weren’t even part of the industry agenda. Now, at least, the hospitality trade has woken up to the fact it needs to seriously shift its priorities. But there’s still far too much chat and not enough action. On the whole, it scores low when it comes to green thinking. Half-hearted requests to reuse towels aside, staggering water usage and eye-watering food waste are still the norm. In contrast The Bull Inn in Totnes, Devon will reopen its doors in early December 2019 after complete renovation, but this is not your usual we’ve-done-up-a-gastropub story. You will never see a generic foodservice delivery van outside, only farmers, co-ops and artisan producers making deliveries, and there will never be a packaged snack or bottled, transported water served at the bar. Instead this is an inn whose relationship with its community and its impact on the environment is as refreshingly engaged and honest and as you can hope to find. The inn aims to be sustainable to its core; with manager Phill Hughes and chef James Dodd at the helm the food served will be organic and the sourcing will be rooted in a logic that acknowledges the complexity of what we need to do to feed ourselves sustainably, but without being martyrs. This is a pub where you won’t find menu marketing greenwash. “The term ‘local, seasonal veg’ has been completely hi-jacked and is bandied around and abused so much that it now means nothing. A season for what? So often when you challenge places serving so called seasonal food it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. But we won’t be serving woody turnips in April when the UK crops run out; instead we will source beautiful veg from farmers we know further afield around the UK, Europe, alongside Fair Trade tropical fruit. But will never air freight and will never say we are something we are not,” explains Geetie. With no whiff of a theme or fairy light in sight the inn has been revived using upcycled, recycled and reinvigorated décor, from tables and curtains to radiators and doorknobs. The team is proving that new is not always best, that craftmanship should be valued above all instead of seeking homewares manufactured far away with cheap labour to feed the latest style trends. “We’ve got to find a way to live and enjoy life sustainably, and I believe that’s an exciting thing. We need to push ourselves out of the way we have always done things; Like all other business areas hospitality needs shaking up. Our aim with The Bull is to show that you can work with integrity and succeed,” Explains Geetie. The opening comes at a time of social and political upheaval in the UK, and the hope is that The Bull will be a beacon of togetherness and inclusivity for the Totnes community, visiting travellers and the team that works there. It will be a proper inn and a decent boozer, where brilliant food, ale and wine will jostle alongside a raft of community goings on. “I want to prove you can be radical, effective and have a positive impact on society and the environment while running a successful business too. It is not impossible!” continues Geetie. “We don’t claim we are perfect but we are trying our absolute best. You have to have hope that there is a better way.” This is Geetie’s fourth pub refurbishment, with the first being the iconic Duke of Cambridge in Islington. Organic since the beginning, Geetie was trailblazing sustainable business and thoughtful food in the 1990s, way before anyone gave a second thought to plastic straws and bottled water. Having said all that, The Bull is not a place steeped in worthiness; There will be plenty of fun there too. “By that I mean fun for all – the team, the suppliers, the customers. Fun should spread. It has always been a really strong motivator for me. Everything should always come back to doing things well and watching others getting fun out of it too.“ www.bullinntotnes.co.uk The Bull Inn will open its doors on 1st December 2019. Alongside amazing food and rooms, we have a beautiful on-site treatment space. Sharing the same sustainability values as The Bull, Sarah Carr and Jo Woolvett will be offering natural beauty treatments and holistic facials for men and women. Walking the walk: • Heat capture systems in the kitchen to create hot water downstairs • Solar capture on the roof to power heating in the bedrooms • 100% organic linens from Greenfibres in the eight bedrooms • Bedside lamps carved from Dartmoor wood by local craftsman Rodney Lomas • Ceramics by local artisan Pippi & Me • Mattresses from Naturalmat in Exeter About Geetie Singh-Watson MBE Geetie Singh-Watson is the founder of the first official organic pub in Britain, The Duke of Cambridge Organic Pub, in Islington, London. In 2009, she was awarded an MBE for ‘Services to the Organic Pub Trade’. An active campaigner and environmentalist, Geetie firmly believes that businesses must act responsibly and be led by their ethics and values. Her broadcast work includes presenting on BBC Back to the Land.

Finding the perfect holiday cottage by the River Dart

By Coast & Country CottagesSerene, beautiful, unspoilt: The meandering River Dart weaves its way through rolling countryside, its banks lined with undulating fields and woodland, interspersed with copious picturesque beauty spots. Whether you are hoping to enjoy long riverside walks, planning on spotting rare wildlife, or simply looking for a peaceful place to rest, the ‘Dart’ is a fabulous South Devon destination. That’s why the team of holiday experts at Coast & Country Cottages have put together a helpful guide to finding the perfect holiday cottage by the River Dart. From cosy cottages with wood burning stoves, to grand houses accommodating all the family, here are five tips to finding the ultimate retreat.   [caption id="attachment_8220" align="alignnone" width="750"]countryandcountry6 The River Dart[/caption] Enjoy the view! When holidaying by the River Dart, the views are nothing short of exceptional. Whether it is from your property itself, or from the nearby coast path, the landscape in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is second to none. Wildlife lovers will be in their element, particularly around Dittisham, where it is not unusual to see seals bobbing in the water or basking in the sunshine. These beautiful marine mammals are more commonly spotted on the quieter stretch of the river, between Dittisham and Totnes, whilst dolphins can sometimes be seen playing in the Dart further downstream in Dartmouth Many of the holiday cottages in Dartmouth and Kingswear boast sea and river views, allowing guests the opportunity to watch life on the water, without even having to leave their balcony or living room. These properties might be particularly of interest to history buffs, as the port of Dartmouth is where The Mayflower set off from on its voyage to the ‘new world’! With 2020 marking the 400th anniversary of this momentous event, there has never been a better time to holiday by the River Dart.   [caption id="attachment_8221" align="alignnone" width="750"]countryandcountry 2 Oliveta House[/caption] Relish in both coast and countryside One of the wonderful things about holidaying in South Devon is it combines both stunning coastline and picturesque countryside. This means, choosing a holiday property on the river’s edge, or nestled in the heart of the countryside, doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t enjoy both!  Gitcombe Estate is a collection of nine luxury holiday homes, sleeping 4-13, complete with an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, tennis court and children’s play area. Why not book a large property or multiple cottages, and encourage parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins to join you? Situated near the village of Cornworthy, the estate is surrounded by countryside but the River Dart remains easily accessible, via the Dart Valley Trail. This is an impressive rural bolt hole for family holidays, offering guests the best of both worlds!  [caption id="attachment_8224" align="alignnone" width="750"]countryandcountry 3 32 Dart Marina[/caption] A special location for a special occasion Whether it’s a special anniversary, a milestone birthday or a family celebration, the River Dart is a memorable backdrop for an extra special getaway. At Coast & Country Cottages we have properties ranging from luxury homes sleeping 16, to romantic boltholes for two. No matter what the occasion, we have holiday properties where you can make memories that will last a lifetime.   Why not book a retreat with your loved one at the luxurious Dart Marina apartments. Offering stylish accommodation overlooking the River Dart, guests at many of these state-of-the-art properties can enjoy complimentary use of the Dart Marina Spa too. Or for a larger group looking for a truly ‘WOW’ property, Oliveta House is unbeatable. Situated in a charming valley just outside of Dartmouth, this mesmerising home offers the ultimate in luxury, with everything from a cinema room, to swimming pools (indoor and outdoor) , and a hot tub Whatever you are planning to celebrate, book your River Dart holiday cottage today.  [caption id="attachment_8229" align="alignnone" width="750"]countryandcountry1 Vantage Point, Hillfield Village[/caption] Stay during an event by the Dart The towns and villages surrounding the River Dart host many events throughout the year, especially Dartmouth and Totnes. Why not combine your trip to explore the River Dart with one of the area’s many festivities? With events including Dartmouth Royal Regatta, Dartmouth Food Festival and Dart Music Festival to name a few, there’s no shortage of unforgettable experiences!  [caption id="attachment_8231" align="alignnone" width="750"]countryandcountry5 Berry Cottage[/caption] Making the most of the water Want to sail, go crabbing, or enjoy a spot of kayaking and paddleboarding? There’s so many ways to enjoy the River Dart! Home to arguably the best place to go crabbing, Dittisham, our properties located on the waterfront are superb for making the most of this! The riverside retreat Berry Cottage is particularly well positioned for an afternoon crabbing on the quay.  For keen sailors or kayakers, Kingswear and Dartmouth are great places to find accommodation, as they offer easy access to the river. Why not book Armorel House, or the Moorings? If you are looking to try surfing instead, choose a property closer to Blackpool Sands and the Start Bay coastline, like those at Hillfield Village.    With so many holiday cottage options by the River Dart, perfect for any occasion, you are sure to find the ideal base for your waterside getaway. Book your break with award-winning holiday letting agency Coast & Country Cottages today. 

Discount to emergency services workers

Bayards Kitchen is offering all those who work in emergency services 10 per cent off food and non-alcoholic beverages at its Dartington café to coincide with the launch of its new weekly pizza evenings. The café, which was taken over by Charlie and Zuzana Deuchar in November 2016, is a thriving hub for the local community and beyond, with safe play areas for toddlers indoors, and eclectic menus that includes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. Now Charlie and Zuzana want to give back to the local emergency services by giving them a permanent discount off all food and non-alcoholic drink orders. Charlie said: “People who work in the emergency services spend their working lives looking out for others and saving lives. “This is just something very small that we can do to show how much we respect them. We’re very much community focused and its great to be able to thank those in our community who are devoted to helping others. This is just a tiny perk to let them know how much they are valued.” Those eligible for the discount include NHS workers, armed service personnel and those who hold a Blue Light Card, which provides a multitude of discounts for armed service personnel. The discount will be launched on May 18, at Bayards Kitchen’s inaugural pizza evening. “We’re really proud to be supporting the emergency services in this way, and we thought the perfect time to launch would be at the first of our Friday night pizza nights when everyone who comes along will be given a free glass of prosecco. Everyone loves pizza and we’ll be offering eat in and take out service,” said Charlie. To view the pizza menu visit www.bayardskitchen.co.uk

Totnes - 10 of the best small UK towns for winter breaks Once again, Totnes has been mentioned in the Guardian newspaper - listed as one of the '10 of the best small UK towns for winter breaks'. Easy to get to by mainline train, the article goes on to mention how Totnes has a glut of independent shops & cafes than any town of comparable size. You can read the article in full here.

South Devon Railway

After the South Devon Railway (SDR) stopped running Mince Pie trains after Christmas on Wednesday 1 January, work began in earnest on the winter track renewal plan between Staverton and Totnes where approximately 1/3 mile of old track will be re-laid with new flat bottom rail instead which will help ease future maintenance and cost considerably. And, with the SDR needing to undertake such a large, on-going programme of important work on both the railway track and locos and rolling stock over the winter period and into 2020, a reluctant decision was made last year not to run any train services over the coming February half-term period. That said, the SDR was well aware that a good number of visitors and local people will probably still arrive at the railway during the February school holiday and be expecting to see the line in Springtime despite there being no advertised services running. An SDR spokesman said: "Many people will expect the SDR to be open for business in February simply because we always have been in recent years when they can enjoy the glorious display of early Spring  line-side flowers and open views of the river, so the SDR felt it's important that something is provided for people to see and do rather than them simply finding that the railway was closed and then being disappointed. "Whilst there was no way a normal pattern of train operation could be provided without causing serious disruption to the tight schedule of vital winter works, and following a series of detailed discussions with all of the departments involved, a plan has just been drawn up which will see a limited train service for visitors with just minimal disturbance of important winter works. "As a result, diesel rail-car No.W55000, affectionately known as the 'Bubblecar' due to its great all-round visibility, will operate a limited shuttle service each day from Saturday 15th February to Sunday 23rd February between Buckfastleigh and Staverton only. South Devon Railway
"Trains will be running every 45 minutes with the first one leaving Buckfastleigh at 10:30 and the last one departing at 15:25, with a slightly extended break at lunchtime. In addition, it's planned to stable a static steam locomotive in the platform at Buckfastleigh where the loco's footplate will be accessible for visitors to inspect.  Totnes station will remain closed however. "This compromise solution will give some level of service to valued visitors and locals whilst minimizing the disruption to the winter work programmes for the SDR's locomotive, carriage & wagon, and civil engineers. The Buckfastleigh café and shop will also be open and, subject to weather, the gardens will also be accessible and, in addition, it's hoped that the museum can be opened too." Please check the SDR website for more details at: www.southdevonrailway.co.uk and some colour photos are attached for your use of the Bubblecar courtesy of Sarah Anne Harvey.
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